The Story Of NYC's Last Nonprofit Cinema
Start writing a post

The Story Of NYC's Last Nonprofit Cinema

Since 1970, Film Forum has faithfully supplied New Yorkers with hard-to-find foreign, indie, and classic films.

The Story Of NYC's Last Nonprofit Cinema
Nikki Link, 2016

The stark white face of the theater’s marquee practically glows in the harsh sunshine of the summer afternoon. Once inside, one is surrounded by large red columns that erupt, seemingly at random, from the equally red carpet. Promotional film posters adorn the walls. To the casual moviegoer, this is unexplored territory, for there is not a blockbuster in sight. That is the way things are, and have always been, at Film Forum. When it comes to film, age is nothing but a number, and commercialization is turned away at the door.

Film Forum started in 1970 as a single-screen cinema in the Upper West Side with 50 folding chairs “and one 16mm projector the size of a breadbox,” remembers current director, Karen Cooper, who took over the theater in 1972.

“I was not particularly interested in film. My major interests were dance and literature. I met the young man running Film Forum while writing for a third-rate film magazine. He offered me ‘the job’ such as it was. I hated my current job. I have always had an independent streak a mile wide. I accepted," she explained.

Under her leadership, the theater evolved into the three-screen cinema with 489 seats currently located on Houston Street.

Film Forum is also the only nonprofit theater still operating in New York City, and one of only a few in the U.S. Originally functioning under the aegis of a theater company, Film Forum became an independent organization after Cooper became director and applied for autonomous nonprofit status.

While many other nonprofit theaters in New York City have been forced to close over the years, most likely as a result of rising real estate prices, Film Forum has endured. Cooper attributes the theater’s success to “showing only the best films possible, aggressively and creatively seeking out work from sources worldwide, marketing films with professionalism, and maintaining high standards for [its] facility.”

Since its inception, Film Forum has prided itself on being “an alternative screening space for independent films,” according to its website. It's cinematic repertoire also includes experimental works, documentaries, foreign films, and revived classics.

While the range of films showcased by Film Forum is quite similar to that of another NYC independent theater, the Quad, Cooper insists that the similarity is merely superficial.

“Our selection of NYC premieres is the biggest difference between Film Forum and other independents. This is not to say that other cinemas don’t show first-rate indie work. They do. We are just more consistent, more inventive, more innovative than the rest of them, even when we do miss a trick or two," she said.

That is, however, a matter of opinion.

Mike Maggiore, a programmer for Film Forum’s NYC theatrical premieres of American independents and foreign art films since 1994, attributes the theater’s success mainly to its policy of showing unique films that few other theaters would give any attention to.

“We’re trying to champion work that isn’t getting any play in commercial cinemas,” he said, “A vast majority of the films we open theatrically would never play in… even a more commercial art-house cinema.”

“We need to consider other ways of looking at the world than those driven mainly by profits. Foreign films give us, as Americans, some insight in a big, complicated world that more often than not have different values from our own. Documentaries offer a window onto innumerable subjects that cry out for our attention. Frankly, ‘conventional’ anything sounds pretty [darn] boring," Cooper explained.

Film Forum’s intense commitment to presenting its audiences with a wide variety of films is even evident behind the scenes. In its projection booth, Film Forum maintains five different types projectors to play films of varying formats and ages, including one that plays 3D films from the 1950s, a system that requires two 35-millimeter projectors running in perfect synchronization to create an illusion of depth for the audience.

Film Forum classifies itself as an “art-house” cinema, or one “that specializes in films made outside the Hollywood studio system,” according to Cooper. Many cinematic genres can fall under the “art-house” umbrella, including independent films, foreign-art films, foreign and American classics, director retrospectives, and documentaries, all of which are showcased at Film Forum. In addition, the theater also hosts events during which directors and cinematographers introduce their films and answer the audience’s questions.

Choosing what films to show is no easy task.

“We cast a really wide net in terms of what we look at. Even though we only have about 30 slots for premieres every year, we probably look at between five and six hundred films," Maggiore explained.

He and Cooper also attend around eight film festivals around the world per year to look for promising new films premiering off the beaten path.

“I feel that what [Film Forum] has brought to New York is a rich repertory of titles and world cinema… and shows that those films have an audience in the United States," he said.

New York University cinema studies professor Richard Allen agreed.

“I go less often than I should,” he admitted, “[Film Forum] is one of the only cinemas left in New York City showing classic films… and one of the few places that [one] can catch restored film prints. I think it’s a great institution.”

Film Forum’s plan for the future is to continue to showcase its eccentric repertoire of films with the support of a new generation of cinephiles taking shape in its Film Forum Jr. program, where the theater screens kid-friendly movies, such as “Freaky Friday” and “The Goonies” at discounted rates on Sunday mornings.

“Given that there are so many different ways now to spend your entertainment time,” Maggiore said. “The goal is to keep new generations of movie lovers coming to movie theaters… to see classic films on the big screen.”

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

Fall is (almost) here, and we could not be more excited. As the weather slowly but surely changes, so will your wardrobe. From booties to oxfords, this fall's shoe trends have something for everyone.

Sure, you might be comfy at home in your slippers, but with shoes this cute, you'll be sporting them when you're out and about or just hanging out in your living room.

Keep Reading... Show less

With the pandemic, so many of my friends and I discussed how it was hard to find new things for date night when so many places were closed. It seems like date nights were just endless nights of bingeing Netflix and stuffing my face with Halo Top and SmartSweets. I tried those other date night ideas like cooking together and playing cards. But even those things can get old after a while. Finally, I had it and decided we need to make date nights COUNT again, even if we had to social distance.

Here are 5 different and unique ways you can spice up date night with your partners.

Keep Reading... Show less

"To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. This classic novel has found itself in the hands of nearly every high school student for the past decades. Ahead of its time, the themes of racial injustices and loss of innocence have certainly sparked many healthy conversations in classrooms.

Keep Reading... Show less

The Ellen DeGeneres Controversy Exposes Our Culture's Need For A Celebrity Villain

The allegations against Ellen DeGeneres have sparked controversy, which continues a pattern of villainizing celebrities.


Our culture has a strange relationship with celebrities. Throughout history, there has been a cult of celebrity and the story is almost always the same. We raise someone up on a pedestal only to watch with sheer delight at their demise. If they're lucky, they can make a comeback. It's a pattern that continues time and time again.

Keep Reading... Show less

- Since my late teens, I have had wavy, unruly hair that is susceptible to frizz from heat damage.

- I've made a conscious effort to try and eliminate heat styling products from my hair regimen in order to do less damage in the form of split ends and hair loss.

- When I first tried Tineco's MODA ONE Smart Ionic Hair Dryer, I was immediately amazed by how quickly it dried my thick strands and how straight/sleek my hair was with minimal work.

Up to my late teen years, my thick, soft, silky straight hair was the envy of nearly everyone I encountered. I totally took it for granted till my hair began to evolve into being more wavy and unruly with random patches of wavy and straight hair.

Keep Reading... Show less

"Schitt's Creek" has quickly become an absolute fan favorite in the US and Canada and their seven wins at the Emmy Awards last night proves just that.

Keep Reading... Show less

Kat Dennings' Comments About Chris Evans' Nude Leak Were Selfish And Out Of Place

Kat Dennings' tweet about Chris Evans' recent nude leak was neither the time nor the place.


Chris Evans is known as a talented actor, best recognized for his role as Captain America. He is widely respected in the entertainment industry. That's why it was shocking to hear that a nude shot of Evans accidentally leaked on the internet.

Keep Reading... Show less

10 Ideas For A Cozy Date Night In When It's Just Too Chilly To Go Outside

Because sometimes you just need to be snuggled up with your boo.


Yup, like most things, summer must come to an end, but just because summer is ending doesn't mean date nights have to end with it. Sure, there will be no more water park trips or picnic dates for a while, but surely there are many more date night ideas you don't need a clear sky and 80+ degree day to make happen.

That's what this list is for. Below are 10 ideas for date nights inside so that while you're stoking the fire at home this fall and winter, you're also keeping the fire alive in your relationship.

Keep Reading... Show less
Politics and Activism

The Steelers Are Honoring Antwon Rose Jr., A Victim Of Police Brutality, For The 2020 Season

The Pittsburgh Steelers have united by wearing the name of a victim of police brutality, Antwon Rose Jr., for the 2020 NFL season.


NFL players are permitted to wear decals on their helmets this season in honor of victims of systemic racism. However, the Pittsburgh Steelers have decided to unite and all wear the same name on their helmets this season: Antwon Rose Jr.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments